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[6 comments]

Plus-sized women's clothing is hot, just ask Melissa McCarthy

July 2, 2014

Sales of plus-sized women's clothing grew five percent last year, according to The NPD Group, as the category appears to have finally rebounded from the hit it took when the economy went into recession.

Sales of plus-sized garments were up across most channels, according to NPD, with department stores, e-commerce sites, off-price retailers and specialty chains all posting gains. E-commerce saw the greatest growth with a jump of 31 percent followed by department stores, which were up seven percent.

While the 55-64 age group represents the largest share of the market, sales to the 18-24 segment have risen 23 percent over the past year. Sales for women 25-34 grew 11 percent, according to NPD.

"Retailers and designers are now viewing this area as a growth opportunity, and today there are indeed more plus-sized choices in stores," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst, The NPD Group, in a statement.

The plus-sized market has recently gotten increased attention because of actress Melissa McCarthy's decision to launch her own line of plus-sized clothing called Pearl.

"When I go shopping, most of the time I'm disappointed," Ms. McCarthy, who studied at the New York Fashion Institute of Technology, told Redbook, "Two Oscars ago, I couldn't find anybody to do a dress for me. I asked five or six designers — very high-level ones who make lots of dresses for people — and they all said no."

Discussion Questions:

Why does there still appear to be some reluctance by retailers and designers to address the needs of the plus-size market? Will the launch of Melissa McCarthy's Pearl line give new impetus to the category?

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Instant Poll:

Will Melissa McCarthy's Pearl line be successful or unsuccessful?

Comments:

The first rule of retailing: Help the consumer buy what they want to buy.

Data on the U.S. demographics would seem to indicate far more potential on the plus-size than petite. The interesting statistic in the article is the growth rates for plus-sizes online is more than three times that of stores.

Retail stores ignore online trends at their own peril. Particularly in the case of fashion, it's all about the consumer experience in-store.

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Chris Petersen, PhD, President, Integrated Marketing Solutions

It's apparent from comments by a few thoughtless executives (Abercrombie & Fitch and Lululemon come to mind) that their own personal discomfort with plus-sized customers is affecting their assortment decisions. The same thought process seemed to happen at JCPenney during the Ron Johnson era, when the company made a sharp turn toward younger/thinner customers as part of its repositioning strategy (and we know how that worked out). Meanwhile, consumers continue to get older, more ethnically diverse and—yes—heavier. Any apparel retailers aiming at a broad demographic target ignore this trend at their own risk.

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Dick Seesel, Principal, Retailing In Focus LLC

I'm not so sure Melissa McCarthy is the right person to promote plus-sized clothing. I get the feeling she is making sport of overweight people, being a comedian. Obviously with obesity at epidemic levels, there will be a growing demand in all age groups and it's the smart thing to do to tap into the market. Retailers might be somewhat reluctant because successful advertising is still based on using sexy, skinny women. Some of my clients regularly hire brand ambassadors and promotional models for their events. We've discussed relaxing standards on weight and putting more emphasis on personality. Too many were more concerned about burying their face in their phones or talking selfies for Facebook than promoting the product.

David Livingston, Principal, DJL Research

I had a conversation with Tim Gunn about this (gotta do the name drop). He thinks one problem is that you really do have to design differently for the plus-size market, along with recognizing that even in the world of "plus" woman have distinctly different shapes—there are mesomorphs, pear-shaped and the top-heavy women; plus tall, short, etc.

Alternatively, many of those who DO design for plus-sized women think we love appliques, elastic waist pants and other total fashion faux pas. It's downright embarrassing.

A shout-out does go to Ralph Lauren, who does a great job of designing within the brand's ethos, and Citron, which also makes some very lovely painted silk tops.

I think if McCarthy does a good job and they see the money rolling in, it'll take off.

As an aside, did you know that in pricey Bal Harbour Shops in Miami, there is not one item of clothing available in size 12 and above in the entire mall? Saks took out their plus-size department (and employees helpfully suggest you go up to their store in Boca Raton, an hour away) and Neiman just doesn't bother with it at all.

Clearly there's a perception that if you're rich, you must be thin. I am hoping McCarthy surprises them.

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Paula Rosenblum, Managing Partner, RSR Research

Why is there reluctance to address the plus-sized market? Because it's not seen as cool, hip, trendy, and in with those who have ruled the fashion clothing world for decades. Melissa McCarthy's line could help the cause, but only if she gets the other fashion fundamentals right as well, i.e. style, fit, feel, availability, and value. In any case, any retailer looking to grow needs to consider this significant market segment.

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Verlin Youd, Principal, VPY LLC

Let's face it, it's not chic to promote the "plus" size. Obesity is at record levels in the USA; it is unhealthy, period. It is also a politically incorrect topic; just look at the lack of posts here.

Conversely, smart business dictates that whoever proactively and aggressively markets apparel to this group will reap huge rewards. Lane Byrant and Catherines do a great job of catering to a niche consumer and they offer really nice apparel choices; they never seem to get to the next level to attract the wider (no pun intended) market.

Melissa McCarthy is talented and funny; I wish her success in her launch.

Alan Cooper, Contract Trainer/Training Consultant, Independent/Freelance

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